Monday, November 12, 2012

The Bakiga Window Vol. II: The New Class

Senior 1D take in the delights of the active and passive voice.
With their distinct lack of formal school clothes, and their inherent naughtiness, the Senior 1 classes stand out against the otherwise uniformity of the student body at Kigezi High School. It is not long into their first year in senior classes and their new uniforms are yet to arrive.

It is Tuesday 3rd April 2012 and I am sat at the back of class S1D as they embark on an English language lesson. The subject that Penninah, their teacher, has chosen for today’s class is ‘the active and passive voice’.

The topic itself may not be fascinating, but to observe these students taking their first tentative steps into senior education is amazing. In the UK, I am often amazed at my students forgetting the basics of English language, so to see group of twelve-year-olds getting their teeth into such a subject is strikes me as being an admirable undertaking.

Casting your eyes about the classroom it is clear to see who is already assuming which role within the class. To the front of the class a short boy, with comparatively long hair, seems to be staking his claim to the title of 'class boffin'. For every question that Teacher Penninah asks, his hand shoots up into the air, often to be followed with a look of disappointment when he is overlooked in favour of someone else to provide the answer.

Learning objectives on the board.
Towards the left hand side of the room, a slender girl with a bright yellow blouse, drifts, mentally at least, into and out of the room. She appears to be nominating herself for the position of class daydreamer. It is barely past break time, but already she seems to be dreaming of lunchtime, dreaming of a cold Coke, or thinking about almost anything else.

The extent of her daydreaming is evident when I stroll over to her desk midway through the lesson and see that she hasn’t written down a single thing that the teacher has said.

The nearer to the back your eyes move, the cheekier the students become. Two girls, seemingly interviewing for the job of class gossips, spend the majority of the time that the teacher has her back turned looking over their shoulders at a boy sat on the opposite side of the room. They look, whisper into each other’s ears, point at something and then giggle almost silently.

Usually being the person at the front of the class, armed with the board marker, I miss this small pantomime. I'd like to think of myself as a reasonably attentive teacher, but, unless you have those fabled eyes in the back of your head, how could ever bear witness to all these shenanigans? 

Regardless of the disappointment, in spite of the daydreamers and the apathy of the gossips, the teacher ploughs on with active and passive voices in a cloud of chalk dust. Did the fire destroy the house, or was the house destroyed by the fire? Most take a wild guess, some scratch their heads, one puts his hand up.

Even though I have visited Kigezi High School four times now, this is my first time in S1. From the amount of time that I have spent with S5 and S6 classes, it is clear to see that this ragtag bunch of children, in their brightly coloured clothes, have got a long way to go before they are the finished Kigezi product. 

When I return in a year, those who remain will be turned out in pristine uniforms and the cheekiness will have started to ebb away from the classroom, but hopefully not so the enthusiasm. For now, there is a fair amount of growing up for these young boarders and day scholars to do.

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